SUGARLAND EXPRESS 1974 (wrote & directed)

  • If you haven’t seen this in a few decades like me, it’s worth re-watching. Somehow I mis-remembered it as a Smokey and the Bandit farce—which it definitely is not.  Great character development throughout.
  • Spielberg wrote the script based on an actual event. Did the project appeal to him specifically because it centered on an individual quest that attracted a huge procession of followers, even well-wishers? Check out two scenes: one where Lou Jean asks for hair curlers etc. and the one where they drive through the center of town’s impromptu parade. This pageantry echoes back to Munchkinland and Emerald City, both of whose populations cheered Dorothy on to her adventures with the same pomp and enthusiasm. See The Terminal, Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister, The Color Purple, Catch Me if You Can for other calvacades.
  • By the way, there is a small sign outside the parade town that reads Val Verde, Spanish for Green Valley…symbolizing Emerald City?  
  • Early on is the favorite backlit moment when innocent Baby Langsdon opens the front door of the Sugarland house. Interior of house is dark and shadowed, outside is brilliant….alluring but full of danger. That is the classic image of how Dorothy enters OZ. Langsdon’s father will be fatally shot right out there. The scene is Lu Jean and Clovis hair sugarlandrepeated later with grownups at the door: however, they perceive the threat and begin to collect the fragile vases.  See Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters, 1941.
  • After the massive police car pile-up, Lou Jean suddenly realizes her errand is no longer just a personal mission. All the hoop-la will not fade away once she’s accomplished what she set out to do. “Clovis, honey, don’t do no good runnin’ from a tornado,” she prophecies. There will be no safe place for them, just as getting home was not enough to prevent the twister’s power from sucking Dorothy up into its maelstrom. See WOO, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can, (1941)  for other instances where ‘home’ did not live up to its illusion of safety.
  • Steven’s love of kids and bikes is spotlighted. At one point, a bunch of mischievous boys ride through the center of a roadblock despite the cops’ protestations. At another, the vigilante complains when he finds his flashers have been commandeered to adorn the handlebars of his son’s bike. See Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Jaws, Inner Space.
  • cop car promenade sugarlandThere is a predominant color palate in this film of red and yellow. Clovis has red hair, Lou Jean blond. Clovis wears a red and yellow plaid shirt. The interior of the Sugarland house is done in red and yellow. Red and yellow fringe decorates the Car Dealership’s lot where they spend the night. The motor home is red and yellow, inside and out. The TV/radio van that inspired all the publicity is red and yellow. Before they enter the downtown parade, there is a lingering shot of the yellow traffic signal with its red light shining. As they proceed, the interior of car is aglow with red roses juxtaposed against yellow gold stamps. Many shots of crowds show extras dressed in stand-out reds and yellows. Just before Lou Jean, Clovis and their hostage crash the final time, you see red road signs against golden turf. The entire film features gold and red sunset skies. One of the enduring Clovis red yellow sugarlandimages of WOO is the close-up of Dorothy’s ruby slippers with the yellow brick road as the backdrop. Schindler’s List, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Twister, Inner Space, Jurassic Park, Used Cars, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
  • Do I even need to point out that the entire caper is to get Baby Langsdon home to his real mother where he belongs? See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, The Color Purple, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em).
  • NOT WOO BUT… Let me urge you to sample this early Spielberg if for nothing more than to check out the scene where Lou Jean points out Roadrunner playing at the drive-in next-door. Clovis provides his own soundtrack for her amusement. When Coyote takes his final dive, Clovis foresees his own demise. Absurdly awesome.

A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 2001 (wrote & directed)

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Ahhhh….the mother-lode of WOO!

  • Professor Marvel’s (AKA Wizard of Oz) hot air balloon has a cameo role as the rounder upper of expendable robots for the flesh fair’s show.
  • Gigolo Joe with his tap dancing on road and curb—not to mention his clever patter—brings off a respectable homage to Scarecrow’s, Tinman’s, Lion’s best song and dance antics.
  • Going to Rouge (red) City to ask Dr. Know=going to Emerald City to ask Wizard (rouge alternative to ruby as in slippers?) See The Terminal, Minority Report for other quests to find ‘wizards’.
  • ‘All roads lead to Rouge City’=Follow the yellow brick roadstill-of-jude-law-and-haley-joel-osment-in-a.i.-artificial-intelligence-(2001)-large-picture
  • Dr. Know appears in explosion of light, however only his head and hands show up. The Great Oz too appears as a talking head. Both are tricky fellows who don’t play fair all the time. Dr. Know counts off the first bogus question unfairly and his answers to the others aren’t quite correct. Professor Marvel/OZ  was a manipulator/showman pretending to know more than he did. See See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can. Schindler’s List  for tricksters.
  • Teddy is as loyal a companion to David as Toto is to Dorothy.   Like the little dog, he is occasionally very helpful getting David rescued—like at flesh fair.
  • The quest imposed by Dr. Know on David to find the Blue Fairy (to become real so Mommy will love him and let him come home)=Dorothy’s quest to witch’s castle to fulfill wizard’s bargain to get her home. For more quests, see Always, Amistad, Joe vs. the Volcano, Tintin, Poltergeist,
    Twister, Sugarland Express, Lincoln, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, Jaws, Inner Space, The Terminal, Schindler’s List, Super 8, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Catch me if You Can, Always, Twilight Zone the Kick the Can episode,
  • Home references abound. “If I become a real boy, can I come home?” “After I find the Blue Fairy, then I can go home.” “Teddy, we’re Home!” almost verbatim Dorothy’s, “Toto, we’re home!” “Mommy, we’re home.” See Jaws, War Horse, The Terminal, Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Super 8, 1941, Amistad, Minority Report, Hook, Poltergeist for other characters anxious to get home to safety.
  • The Blue fairy’s gentle voice is so reminiscent of Glinda, good Witch of the North.  With creepy, modulated kindness,  both sorceresses pound in nail-hard facts.  Your mommy’s dead. The witch is after you. The road is long. You had to find out for yourself.
  • David sleeps at the end, home at last with Mommy dying. He goes to a place ‘where dreams begin’. Dorothy sleeps as tornado strikes, then after clicking heels of ruby slippers, wakes up at home, ‘her dream ended’. Where is home really? Here in physical world or there in dreams? See Joe vs. the Volcano.
  • Tinkling wind chimes in a window signify magic is coming…David will find Mommy waking up. This pre-magic moment (or significant change coming moment) presaged by a tinkling sound appears in many Spielberg films. You will remember that we always knew Glinda was coming when we heard the chimes begin.  See Always, E. T., The Color purple, Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs the Volcano.
  • Check out the  Gone with the Wind  scenery look-alike when Gigolo Joe is silhouetted next to a tree as robots scavenge for parts in the dump. (see War of Worlds, War Horse). For a long time I attributed this scene and several others in various Spielberg pictures to GWTW.  Recently though, I realized the small bridge where Scarlett shelters in creek with horse as the Union army crosses is awfully similar to one seen in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy runs away to Professor Marvel. Victor Fleming directed both films so it seems plausible that he found a double use for that particular bridge…and maybe the set with the tree and split rail fences as well? I realize King Vidor directed much of WOO, especially Kansas scenes, but does that preclude possibility that Victor and he occasionally shared sets?  Is Steven purposely doing the same thing?

THE TERMINAL 2004

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  • Viktor Navorski meets and befriends three steadfast companions in this nether world Terminalbetween Krakozhia and New York City just like Dorothy did in Oz. Mulroy, Enrique, and Gupta represent the qualities of Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion. Enrique searches for his heart (love of Dolores). Paranoid, fearful Gupta searches for the courage to return to his family in India and face imprisonment. Mulroy is the brainy one. He keeps Gupta’s silliness in line—much as Scarecrow reigns in Lion—and he imparts savvy hints to Viktor to help him survive in this often hostile environment. See Goonies.
  • Of course Frank Dixon plays the Wicked Witch of the West, trapping Viktor out of sheer meanness and his own desire for power/promotion.
  • Viktor’s goal is to find a ‘wizard’, in this case the virtuoso jazz musician whose signature will complete his father’s collection. See A.I., Minority Report
  • Gupta uses a mop to delay the Krakozhia flight, affording Viktor time and opportunity to get his wish and go out into NYC. You will recall the witch’s broomstick was the tool required by Wizard as compensation for the companions’ wishes to be granted.
  • As Viktor promenades down the center of airport toward his exodus, he is encouraged and cheered on by his companions and bystanders, again much like Dorothy in Munchkinland and Emerald City. See Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister, The Color Purple, Catch Me if You Can, Sugarland Express, Used Cars
  • In the climactic parade scene, on the upper level, the camera flashes upon a distinctly yellow floor like yellow brick road. However close-ups do away with the pigment.
  • At the end, Frank’s security guards—like the witch’s soldiers in the castle—are only to happy to defy previous orders and former protocol.  They let the captive go free.
  • Gupta triumphantly reassures Viktor from tarmac that everything is okay; he is returning homeSee WOO, A.I., E.T., Super 8, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun, War Horse, Saving Private Ryan, Sugarland Express, Hook, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can for other characters’ touching faith in safety of home.
  • Viktor initially complicates matters when he refuses to confirm he is ‘afraid to go home’. Pure at heart and untouched by Frank’s evil influence, or those overthrowing his country’s government, he can never accept that home is anything but a safe place for him. Dorothy shares the same viewpoint despite events to the contrary like Miss Gulch and the tornado. See above notation for characters with equally naïve notions about the sanctuary of home. See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, The Color Purple, Munich, Poltergeist
  • The film’s finale has Viktor confidently answering the cabbie’s request for a destination, “I am going home.” If he doesn’t exactly close his eyes, he certainly narrows them. See WOO Dorothy’s ‘no place like home incantation’, Empire of the Sun, A.I.
  • Krakozhia: some say the country is named after Krakow…maybe…but is also pseudo-anagram for Kansas and Oz.

WAR HORSE: 2011

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  • When Joey is rescued from the barbed wire and brought back to camp, snow begins to fall…and that begins the healing for both horse and Albert from Devon. In WOO, snow falling on poppies is the antidote to their poison. Glinda banishes  the sleeping death and secures the companions’ momentary release from witch’s evil influence. Snow revives Dorothy and the lion, cures them and sets them back on the path of life, eventually to find their way home.
  • Going home (to Mom) once again shines as the beacon for the main characters (boy and horse) in this movie. See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Sugarland Express, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, The Color Purple, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em).
  • When Colin walks through No Man’s Land, he is reciting a prayer for courage, like a mantra…the Lord is my shepherd. This is reminiscent of the WOO mantra ‘lions and tigers and bears oh my’. See Minority Report for another mantra.
  • No Man’s Land recalls the landscape where the witch’s castle was located, dark, bleak, and barren. We reach for courage in a terrifying, evil world. Also I am reminded of the Kansas landscape, black, grey and white, tumbleweeds deserted roads before the tornado strikes. This ‘air of grayness’ was an effective device in WOO to portray hopelessness. See E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Schindler’s List, Twister, Joe Vs. the Volcano, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Poltergeist
  • Bells ring at the announcement of end of War as they do in Lincoln at passing of 13th.   It’s a WOO thread: “Ding-dong, the witch is dead.”  Evil has been extinguished. Triumph of the perseverant!
  • The sweet, chubby German who reluctantly must do his job—warhorses under his direction will die pulling artillery—looks suspiciously like the tenderhearted Gatekeeper of Emerald City, AKA gatekeeper for Oz’s Hall. Same center part in middle of slicked down hair, mustache, and body type. Same sentimental character that disobeys orders to help hero.  If he had a slightly bigger part, I’d call him a trickster.images-6
  • This German hollers out ‘Run! Run!’ to Joey, the horse, encouraging him to escape. Dorothy hollers to Toto at witch’s castle, “Run Toto, run!” See Minority Report, Sugarland Express, Twister.
  • At the end, when Joey and Albert get home, look at the sunset scenery for a very GWTW homage to Victor Fleming who also directed WOO.  See A.I., War of the Worlds.

JAWS 1975

  • Jaws_045Pyxurz Alex’s mother appears in the midst of the harbor’s competitive chaos.  Everybody in town is debarking.  They hope to win a fabulous bounty for catching the man-eating monster. Mrs. Kintner is dressed all in black. Like the Wicked Witch of West, she cleaves through the center of crowd.  You recall how the Munchkins hailed Dorothy in raucous celebration until witch sucked their joy away?  The bereaved mother has same effect here. With vitriolic demeanor, she confronts Martin in an angry threatening speech, beating him down as the witch did Dorothy.
  • There are several clinking, tinkling interludes in this movie that warn you the shark is coming, like the WOO signal  that let you know Glinda was on her way.  Unlike the soundtrack music that tricks you sometimes…this prescient clinking is never wrong. The buoy rings as the girl goes for her dip, a warning the shark is going to get her.  Before Alex and Tippett get chomped listen to the background music for orchestral chimes.  Those two won’t escape.  There are no chimes in the famous roast beef scene because the fisherman escapes, but you will hear them at the pond when the helpful man falls out of his boat and becomes shark bait.  Listen for a flat drumming knell when Hooper dives around Ben Gardner’s disabled boat before he finds the gory corpse. Even when Orca’s crew is chasing and being chased, despite music implying danger, suspenseful clicking of fishing pole, beeping of monitor, you only hear the chimes to verify doom.  No chimes when shark initially toys with broken boat but when they tie on three barrels, Jaws gets mad.  He goes after them and then the chimes sound.  Someone is going to pay.  When he eats Hooper’s cage the chimes are silent; Hooper will survive.  When the ship is sinking and the bell tolls, Quint will soon be a dead man.  The bell rings again right before Martin shoots the gas canister that blows the shark to smithereens at which point you will hear a profusion of happy chimes while pieces sink!  See Always, A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
  • I have seen this film dozens of times, two or three at the movie theater when it first came out.  It is one of a handful that never fails to suck me in as I try to click by.  I thought I had noticed everything WOO until recently I became aware of the heavy use of red and yellow color scheme: Amity’s billboard, beach decor, costumes the extras are wearing, Ben Gardner’s boat scene, the man’s red and yellow dinghy on the pond, Alex’s yellow raft covered in blood, yellow barrels, red lifejackets, the Orca herself.  And here’s an interesting detail: the Orca’s paint job changes frequently.  Watch how she starts out with yellow letters on a red transom.  Then she goes to an all red stern with black hull…perhaps as a better backdrop for yellow barrels?  At one point before the boat burns, the stern even seems to turn yellow!  WOO, one of the first color films ever made employed its eye-popping hues to best advantage, most notably ruby slippers against the yellow brick road.  See  A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Always, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
  • On the 4th of July an army of bicyclists debark from the ferry.  See E.T., Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Inner Space, Used Cars.  If there’s a way to squeeze a bike in, Steven will find it… even in a film that is set primarily on water!
  •  Quint, of course, is the lovable trickster.  His methods are questionable, especially when he destroys the radio that might have saved them all.  But Martin’s quest to kill the monster would not have been fulfilled without Quint’s maniacal manipulation.  See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can.
  • The happy ending shows our survivors coming in sight of home as they swim. See references to safety of home, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can, Amistad, The Terminal, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Poltergeist etc.

THE COLOR PURPLE 1985

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  • Repeated over and over are the wind chimes tinkling, preceding every important moment of change in Celie’s life. We hear clinking or tinkling signaling magic, danger, change in so many of Spielberg’s films. The device is inspired by WOO’s Glinda. Unlike the witch who shocked and frightened children  each time she appeared, Glinda politely let you know to expect her arrival with a recurring fanfare of chimes.  See Always, A.I., E. T., Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist
  • Shug dances from the speak-easy to her father’s church with a parade of born-again sinners coming down road behind her.  The scene brings to mind many instances where WOO crowds follow Dorothy and her entourage. We see such accompaniment repeated in The Terminal, Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister,  Catch Me if You Can, Sugarland Express, Used Cars.
  • Shug is the trickster, a bad woman, a sinner, who nonetheless shows the meek Celie how to fight for what she wants. Her courage and indomitable spirit transcend her mischievous behavior and inspire and push our protagonist to achieve her goals. See Wizard of Oz, See Empire of the Sun, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can. Schindler’s List, Used Cars, Joe vs. the Volcano for other examples of tricksters.
  • The girls running and leaping through the field of flowers evokes the same pure joy and hero_EB20040328REVIEWS08403280301ARcamaraderie Dorothy and pals experience upon reaching the poppies outside of Emerald City. The act of  a protagonist crossing a field often precedes a major plot point in Steven’s films. See Twister, Saving Private Ryan, Lost World of Jurassic Park, Always.
  • Celie inherits her family’s former house when her raunchy stepfather dies. This windfall marks a turning point in her life. She finds security, autonomy, peace, and eventually joy after she returns ‘home’.  The WOO promise!  See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, Munich, Poltergeist, The Terminal for other examples of home as the sanctuary.
  • Mother is finally reunited with her children, a slight variance to the definition of ‘home’.  See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Sugarland Express, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em) for reunions of children with loved ones.

ET THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL – Directed 1982

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  • Introduction opens with spaceship in woods…you see the glowing triangular pyramids, some kind of flora-specimen collecting devices…Check the right hand side of scene. For an instant camera pans tree and an animated human face appears in bark, just like the apple trees in Oz. See Minority Report, Poltergeist.
  • Elliot gets tipsy because ET has discovered beer, he lets frogs loose and in pandemonium kisses the girl. Camera closes in to her black patent leather shoes; she kicks out her heel in a move exactly like the one Dorothy uses to show off ruby slippers.
  • The trailers, posters all featured the key moment when Elliott is speeding away on his bike with c561e28ede49f3424cb96695574b18eaET on handlebars. ET’s magic launches them over the cliff… and then they are flying through the air. Obvious parallel: Almira Gulch pedaling her bike through the air is straight out of Dorothy’s view of inside the tornado.
  • Apparently the bike scene from ET is one of Spielberg’s favorites. It is now the logo for Amblin, his production company. Spielberg gives his trademark bicycle a cameo in many films. See Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Jaws, Inner Space, Used Cars, Poltergeist.
  • Chimes/clinking are used in this film to foreshadow magic. ET’s jury rigged phone clinks; chimes sound right before the spaceship returns to pick him up; a bell actually rings before the BMX gang all take off into thin air. WOO’s good witch always announced her arrival with magical chimes.  See Always, A.I.,The Color Purple, Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
  • You will see the oft-used backlit, dusty quiet scene when the astronauts first invade Elliot’s home searching for ET, like Dorothy’s house upon landing in Oz— calm before craziness.  See War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Twilight Zone, Twister.  Also the ‘air of grayness’ that WOO used to portray Kansas is changed to an air of eerie blueness in this scene.
  • And yes WOO’s recurring theme is handled again in this as in many of Spielberg’s films…all ET wants is to “go home.” See Jaws, War Horse,The Terminal, A.I., The Color Purple, Sugarland Express, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Super 8, 1941, Amistad, Minority Report, Munich, Hook, Poltergeist. 
  • Interesting note: The mother protests, “This is my home,” as government officials violate her sanctuary.  Home is supposed to be a ‘safe’ place. See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, The Color Purple, Munich, Poltergeist.